In tribute to Leo Ornstein, who passed away at the age of 108 or 109, just a couple of weeks prior this OM 8 concert held on March 8, 2002, pianist Sarah Cahill added this selection to the end of that evening’s program. “Morning in the Woods” was composed in 1971. The composer’s wife recalls that the piece was composed “in our New Hampshire hideaway, deep in the woods on the edge of the large wilderness.” It is typical of a vast number of compositions Ornstein wrote in his seventies and eighties: tonal, lush, and luxurious. “He particularly loved that piece,” say the composer’s son, Severo Ornstein, “although his disdain for sentimentalism was boundless, so was his love of good solid romanticism.” A piano prodigy from an early age, Ornstein studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory under Alexander Glazounov, but in 1906 he was forced to flee with his family to the United States where he studied at what would one day become the Juilliard School. He started giving concerts in 1911 and soon achieved notoriety, not only as a gifted pianist introducing American audiences to the works of Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin, Schoenberg and Bartók, but also through performances of his own radical “futurist” compositions, which created a furor. However, in the 1920s, at the height of a successful concert career, he abruptly ceased performing and instead dedicated the rest of his long life to teaching at his own music school and composing. He retired from teaching in the 1950s but continued to compose until his late 90s, making him perhaps the oldest active composer. Although best known for a collection of radical early works, throughout his life he wrote in diverse styles, as this special performance by Sarah Cahill illustrates to delightful effect.
Sarah Cahill, piano
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